Alone For a Couple Whiles

by Kathleen Kettler Lehman

Appeared: 05/20/2009

Last Friday our four-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter informed her mother that she "needed to be alone for a couple whiles".  Melissa thought this was terribly cute, and passed it along to the rest of us.

I agree with Samara.  Sometimes I just need to be alone for a couple whiles.  And she has a great precedent:  the Manifestations of God spent time alone for a couple whiles, and sometimes more like forty or a hundred whiles rather than just a couple.  Consider these:

At one point He [Bahá'u'lláh] left the city and went alone into the mountains of Kurdistan, where He made His abode in caves and grottoes. A part of this time He lived in the city of Sulaymaniyyih. Two years passed during which neither His friends nor family knew just where He was.

('Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 26)

And he [Jesus] was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.

(Mark 1:13, KJV)

Funny things happen to the Manifestations when they're in these out-of-the-way places.

Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the farthest end of the wilderness, and came to the mountain of God, unto Horeb. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said: 'I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.' And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said: 'Moses, Moses.' And he said: 'Here am I.'  And He said: 'Draw not nigh hither; put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.'  Moreover He said: 'I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.

(Torah [Law], Shemos [Exodus], 3,1-3,6)

Indeed, to stand alone, in one fashion or another, for some crucial period of time seems to be a requirement for the Manifestations.  Zoroaster and Muhammad both fled their hometowns a step ahead of those who sought to kill them.  Tormented by questions to which He had no answers, the Buddha voluntarily walked away from His wife and child.  Moses, on the lam, staggered into Midian, where he found a wife, a job, and God, roughly in that order.  The Báb was imprisoned in the desolate heart of a mountain, and Bahá'u'lláh, after His own time in prison and subsequent banishment, spent two years a-wandering in Kurdistan.

What happens to the Manifestations during this time?  The Buddha, in his desperate yearning for an answer, nearly starved Himself to death.  The Gospels record that Jesus was "tempted of the devil"—perhaps a metaphor for the time when, the Manifestation realizing His nature, He is tempted by all-too-human desires to reject His divine mission.  Buddhist tradition tells of the same moment, when mankind's future hinged on whether the Buddha would remain, alone and ecstatic, in his newfound enlightenment, or whether he would arise to teach others what He had learned.  Bahá'u'lláh writes:

What more shall We say? The universe, were it to gaze with the eye of justice, would be incapable of bearing the weight of this utterance! In the early days of Our arrival in this land, when We discerned the signs of impending events, We decided, ere they happened, to retire. We betook Ourselves to the wilderness, and there, separated and alone, led for two years a life of complete solitude. From Our eyes there rained tears of anguish, and in Our bleeding heart there surged an ocean of agonizing pain. Many a night We had no food for sustenance, and many a day Our body found no rest. By Him Who hath My being between His hands! notwithstanding these showers of afflictions and unceasing calamities, Our soul was wrapt in blissful joy, and Our whole being evinced an ineffable gladness. For in Our solitude We were unaware of the harm or benefit, the health or ailment, of any soul. Alone, We communed with Our spirit, oblivious of the world and all that is therein. We knew not, however, that the mesh of divine destiny exceedeth the vastest of mortal conceptions, and the dart of His decree transcendeth the boldest of human designs. None can escape the snares He setteth, and no soul can find release except through submission to His will. By the righteousness of God! Our withdrawal contemplated no return, and Our separation hoped for no reunion. The one object of Our retirement was to avoid becoming a subject of discord among the faithful, a source of disturbance unto Our companions, the means of injury to any soul, or the cause of sorrow to any heart. Beyond these, We cherished no other intention, and apart from them, We had no end in view. And yet, each person schemed after his own desire, and pursued his own idle fancy, until the hour when, from the Mystic Source, there came the summons bidding Us return whence We came. Surrendering Our will to His, We submitted to His injunction.

(Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán, p. 250-1)

Solitude is thus a necessary component of communion with God.  In the writings of the Báb we find:

The reason why privacy hath been enjoined in moments of devotion is this, that thou mayest give thy best attention to the remembrance of God, that thy heart may at all times be animated with His Spirit, and not be shut out as by a veil from thy Best Beloved. Let not thy tongue pay lip service in praise of God while thy heart be not attuned to the exalted Summit of Glory, and the Focal Point of communion.

(The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 93-4)

In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna describes to Arjuna the proper form of meditation:

Day after day, let the Yogi practice the harmony of soul:  in a secret place, in deep solitude, master of his mind, hoping for nothing, desiring nothing.

Let him find a place that is pure and a seat that is restful, neither too high nor too low, with sacred grass and a skin and a cloth thereon.

On that seat let him rest and practice Yoga for the purification of the soul:  with the life of his body and mind in peace; his soul in silence before the One.

With upright body, head, and neck, which rest still and move not; with inner gaze which is not restless, but rests still between the eye-brows;

With soul in peace, and all fear gone, and strong in the vow of holiness, let him rest with mind in harmony, his soul on me, his God supreme.

(Bhagavad-Gita, 6:10-14, Juan Mascaró tr.)

Again, the Manifestation emphasizes solitude, wherein one finds oneself in the presence of God alone.

Although the state of solitude, being relatively free of distractions, allows one to focus properly, perhaps there is something else operating within it.  In Taoist fashion, Silence is the medium within which the Word finds expression.  A sort of primal silence is necessary for the expression of the Primal Word.  If we are full of noise—spiritual as well as physical—we cannot hear the Voice of God.  The remedy—solitude—offers us the means by which we can detach ourselves from our surroundings and concentrate fully and wholly on Him.

Blessed is he who, at the hour of dawn, centring his thoughts on God, occupied with His remembrance, and supplicating His forgiveness, directeth his steps to the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar and, entering therein, seateth himself in silence to listen to the verses of God, the Sovereign, the Mighty, the All-Praised.

(Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, ¶ 115)

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